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What’s Baby-Led Weaning? How to Help Your Infant Feed Himself

Hands off, mama! With baby-led weaning, your kid is in charge. It may be a good thing to occur in the high chair considering that the invention of the bib. Here are a few methods for baby-led weaning success.

It’s a familiar scene: Mom or Dad delivering sweet potato purée into Baby’s wide-open mouth via that special airplane spoon—detailed with sound effects and announcements from the cockpit. However for the parents who practice baby-led weaning, the picture of Baby’s mealtimes looks much different: The youngest person in the family sits in the high chair before a spread of finger foods, wanting to transfer the bits from tray to tongue all by himself.

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Popularized in the U.K. with the publication of Baby-Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, this technique has been used round the world. Now, enthusiasm for baby-led weaning can be growing in the United States. It’s especially popular among young parents buying a more natural and family-friendly means of serving solids.

Read on to master about the benefits of this feeding method, with strategies for how to start baby-led weaning yourself.

The Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning

In a nutshell, baby-led weaning means skipping spoon-feeding purees and letting babies feed themselves finger foods from the comfort of the start—at about age 6 months. The advantages may be great, says registered dietician Clancy Cash Harrison, author of Feeding Baby.To begin with, it will help fine-tune motor development: “Baby-led weaning supports the development of hand-eye coordination, chewing skills, dexterity, and healthy diet plan,” she says. “In addition it offers babies an opportunity to explore the taste, texture, aroma, and color of a variety of foods.”

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It’s also an early—and very important—step for babies in learning self-regulation: understanding how to stop eating when they feel full. “Babies who self-feed cannot realistically be made to consume more than they need since they are feeding independently,” says Natalia Stasenko, a pediatric dietician and co-writer of Real Baby Food. With spoon-feeding, she says, “Parents can sneak in a couple more spoonfuls even though the child is full. Doing so frequently will teach the infant to routinely eat more than he needs and stop regulating his intake efficiently.”

Though few scientific studies have now been conducted on the subject, experts see prospect of baby-led weaning to really have a lasting effect on a child’s food preferences, diet plan, and palates. Plus, you won’t have to buy little jars of food or spend some time blending, freezing, and defrosting homemade baby food. (#momwin!)

It’s important to see, though, that baby-led weaning might not benefit every baby. “Babies with developmental delays or neurological issues should start solids more traditionally,” says Dina DiMaggio, M.D., a pediatrician in New York City and coauthor of The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies & Toddlers.You’ll also have to be extra vigilant about choking and food allergies.

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When Should I Start Baby-Led Weaning?

Wait until your child is ready. Your child should manage to sit in a higher chair unassisted, have good neck strength, and manage to move food to the back of her mouth with up and down jaw movements, Harrison says. “Most healthy children over 6 months old are developmentally in a position to self-feed; however, strong chewing skills in certain children might not be fully developed until 9 months. The baby-led weaning process will help develop those chewing skills.”

Also note that “weaning” is truly a tiny misnomer. “Breast milk or formula will continue being a baby’s biggest supply of nutrition until he or she’s 10 to 12 months old,” says Stasenko.

RELATED: The Complete Guide to Starting Baby on Solids

The Best Baby-Led Weaning Foods

You may see photos on baby-led-weaning Facebook pages of babies chowing down on a variety of improbable foods, from drumsticks to casseroles. But most experts recommend beginning more slowly. “Begin with single-ingredient foods so you will end up able to pinpoint any food allergies,” says DiMaggio.

Examples of first finger foods include banana, avocado, steamed broccoli florets with a stalk “handle,” baked sliced apple with no peel, moist and shredded meats, poached and flaked salmon, pasta, omelets cut into pieces, or strips of chicken.

Substantial-size pieces—cut in long, thin strips, coin-shaped, or with a crinkle cutter—are easiest for your baby to manage. That’s because not many 6- to 8-month-olds have mastered the pincer grasp (thumb and index finger), so they’ll grab foods making use of their whole palm. Once your baby develops this pincer grasp, around 8 to 9 months, serve food cut into small pieces, like ripe mango chunks, cooked beans, chopped steamed spinach, and bits of pasta.

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Also understand that texture is key. The foodstuff you give your novice eater must certanly be soft and simple to smash with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger. For instance, you need to steam fruits and vegetables when beginning baby-led weaning, says Leslie Schilling and Wendy Jo Peterson, both moms, dietitians, and co-authors of Born to Eat: Whole Healthy Food From Baby’s First Bite.

Once your infant has tried and tolerated several single-ingredient foods, you can begin offering mixed dishes. Ensure you will find high-calorie foods and people that have iron, zinc, protein, and healthy fats on the tray, advises Stasenko. “It is also advisable to cook with minimum salt since a baby’s body cannot process sodium well,” she adds.

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